Potent PSV need a win for the title
The 26th of February 2012. “This was our championship game!” Exclaimed a thrilled Dries Mertens after PSV beat Feyenoord 3-2. The victory saw the Eindhoven club go seven points clear of their opponents and maintain a five point lead over Ajax. His coach, Fred Rutten, was equally euphoric. “We’re going for the title. We’re on top at the moment and that’s where we will remain.” Only two weeks later, Rutten was sacked and PSV had dropped to fourth. Come May, Ajax were champions with Feyenoord finishing second, booking a place in the following season’s Champions League Qualifying round.
It goes to show that you don’t win a title in one match, and with four games left after this Sunday’s clash between PSV and Ajax, it would be daft to think this is the title-decider. However, PSV and Ajax are the two clubs with matters in their own hands, meaning the fixture in the Philips Stadion is probably the biggest one of the competition.
Following a decade of dominating Dutch football, PSV are now without a league title for five years and the Boeren faithful are yearning for success. After crown prince Philip Cocu finished the season assisted by Ernest Faber, an old face came back to do what he had done before for the Eindhoven giants. Dick Advocaat was installed as head coach after a disappointing Euro 2012 with Russia and saw his team enforced by the likes of PSV legend Mark Van Bommel and Heerenveen winger and Netherlands international Luciano Narsingh. The 4-2 win over Ajax in the Dutch Super Cup in August was a sign of things to come. Advocaat’s charges won all but two of their opening 13 matches, with an opening day defeat to RKC and a loss to Utrecht in matchday five the only black marks on their record until late November. PSV propelled themselves to the top of the table, scoring goals for fun and dishing out trashing after thrashing, winning six games with a margin of four or more goals.
The PSV-machine was fully functioning until a certain Wilfried Bony scored against them, assuring Vitesse took home all three points with a 2-1 win in their meeting on the 25th of November. A 3-1 defeat to fierce rivals Ajax in the Amsterdam Arena followed and ever since, the machine has been stuttering. Especially in recent weeks, things haven’t gone their way. A loss away at Heerenveen in the beginning of March saw them surrender first place, followed by a draw against struggling Roda JC. It left the manager frustrated. After the Roda game, Advocaat told NOS: “It dispirits me, because it’s not the first time [we have dropped points unnecessarily]. The way we finish off our chances. And defensively too. I fear there’s nothing to do about it at the moment. Perhaps in the future, but not in this season. Next week, we will have to win against Willem II to ensure we’re still in the title race. We can’t afford to drop points. But I’ve said that lots of times [this season].”
Only an Ola Toivonen-inspired moment saw PSV edge things out against bottom side Willem II last week. To put it mildly, the Eindhoven club aren’t exactly in great form. The pressure is bigger than ever, with Van Bommel undecided on his future, Toivonen only willing to stay for Champions League football and manager Advocaat demanding a title win to extend his contract. With Wilfred Bouma and Erik Pieters out, two experienced defenders are missing while Narsingh and exciting young Jurgen Locadia are both out for the remainder of the campaign. Furthermore, there is unrest in the background with several club icons criticising players and staff for ‘diva-behaviour’ and the lack of youth talent coming through. PSV need a title to bring calm to the club and, in order to win one, a win over Ajax on Sunday is a must. A difficult task, in difficult circumstances.
But when looking at the squad, there should be enough in there to put up a good fight against Frank de Boer’s side. The defense may be considered the weak point of the PSV team. The back-line, which consists of 18-year-old Jetro Willems, Marcelo, Timothy Derijck and Atiba Hutchinson in front of goalkeeper Boy Waterman, are hardly showing why they are playing for a club competing for the title. But the midfield pair of Kevin Strootman and Van Bommel is experienced and full of quality and, when combined with attacking options such as Jeremain Lens, Mertens, Toivonen and Georginio Wijnaldum while Tim Matavz and prodigious Memphis Depay offer support from the bench, leave PSV as potent as any. While their defense may be shoddy, 32 goals conceded, that attacking threat is exactly why PSV have a shot of becoming league leaders again this Sunday. With the 88 goals scored so far, they have the best goal difference by a distance (+56, Ajax second best with +42). Vitesse remain hot on their heels having racked up the same amount of points, but with a worse goal difference (+28) and fourth place Feyenoord trailing by one point with a goal difference of +19, it’s PSV’s free scoring form earlier in the season which could prove the difference as the competition draws to a close.
But with PSV facing away games at AZ and Twente and two home games versus Groningen and NEC Nijmegen in between, a win is only a step to success. Whatever the outcome is, Mertens telling the journalists they had just played the champions game this weekend is very improbable.